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Crises of the Sentence

There are few forms in which so much authority has been invested with so little reflection as the sentence. Though a fundamental unit of discourse, it has rarely been an explicit object of inquiry, often taking a back seat to concepts such as the word, trope, line, or stanza.
            To understand what is at stake in thinking—or not thinking—about the sentence, Jan Mieszkowski looks at the difficulties confronting nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors when they try to explain what a sentence is and what it can do. From Romantic debates about the power of the stand-alone sentence, to the realist obsession with precision and revision, to modernist experiments with ungovernable forms, Mieszkowski explores the hidden allegiances behind our ever-changing stylistic ideals. By showing how an investment in superior writing has always been an ethical and a political as well as an aesthetic commitment, Crises of the Sentence offers a new perspective on our love-hate relationship with this fundamental compositional category.

264 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Language and Linguistics: General Language and Linguistics

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Logic and Philosophy of Language

Rhetoric and Communication


“A poem is the cry of its sentences. Jan Mieszkowski explores how sentences are made, and broken, in aphorisms and slogans as well as in Schlegel, Poe, Dickinson, and Stein (among many others). Crises of the Sentence illuminates the aesthetics of literary style––as well as the style of literary aesthetics.”

Charles Bernstein, author of Pitch of Poetry

“No book has given me such critical pleasure in a long while, in part thanks to the satisfaction afforded by the successive unfolding of Jan Mieszkowski’s own flawless sentences. I won’t call them elegantly crafted since he hasn’t manufactured them for the reader’s pleasure. Rather, the book’s virtue is to make us supremely aware of the strange capacity for one ‘complete thought’ to give way to another as a property inherent in all good prose.”

Anne-Lise Francois, author of Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience

Crises of the Sentence ponders what we stand to gain through an embrace of the density of form. What does it mean to find pleasure rather than pain in confronting something so dense you have to read it three times over? To sit with a sentence as it is, before rooting around to discover its meaning? To feel comfortable with linguistic inconsistency and indeterminacy? It might be the chance we need, not merely to interpret, but to change the world, or at the very least, something in ourselves.”

Times Literary Supplement

"Mieszkowski crackles with ideas. In Crises of the Sentence, he draws from a vertiginous array of sources—Derrida to Dickens, Hegel to Hemingway—to explore what a sentence is, and how it has been used, both as a powerful tool and as a force that is ultimately beyond our control."

Reed Magazine

“After you've read this book, it will be clear that troubles can arise out of misunderstanding of language, beginning with the misapprehension of its basic unit, the sentence.”

NBC 2 Fort Myers, Florida

Table of Contents

Introduction: What Is a Sentence?
1 Slogans and Other One-Liners
2 The Poetic Line
3 Sentences Terminable and Interminable
4 The Democratic Sentence
Conclusion: The Sentence Fetish

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